Jean Dubuffet, ‘Le voyageur à la pelisse’, 1952, Sotheby's

Property in which Sotheby’s has an Ownership Interest (see Conditions of Sale for further information)

From the Catalogue
In the 1950s, Dubuffet tore apart the rules of painting, in favor of a sensual rendering that advocated psychological intensity in the Surrealist vein. His landscapes became increasingly removed from real places and objects, and moved toward dreamscapes, or as he described them, "These are landscapes of the brain. They aim to show the immaterial world that inhabits the mind of man: turbulent disorder of images, beginnings of images, fading images, tatters of what we have witnessed and facts purely cerebral and internal – visceral, perhaps." Many of these landscapes include fleeting traces of a human presence, which quickly fade into the mottled dissemination of the oil across the canvas. The rugged terrain and interlacing patterns of his compositions emerge as much from the material as from the vivid disarray of visual facets that inhabited his mind.

In Le voyageur a la pelisse from 1952, the voyager, wearing a long pelisse, or cloak, is engulfed by the dappled and marbled background. The figure’s ethereal silhouette emerges out of the compressed landscape. This modernistic flattening of the picture plane eschews intelligible markers of depth and fuses the figure with its pulsating surroundings in order to “animate the surface,” letting it “speak its own language and not an artificial language of three-dimensional space which is not proper to it...” (the artist quoted in Hubert Damisch, Ed., Prospectus et tous écrits suivants, Paris 1976, p. 74) A narrow band of sky is densely overpainted along the top of the canvas, grounding the picture plane in space.

In keeping with the recurrent motif of personnage in Dubuffet's oeuvre, the fleeting figure in the present work is pictured isolated amid the atmosphere with its body cloaked by a pelisse. It is in the juxtaposition of the figure’s European Regency era garb with the aura social seclusion that Dubuffet exemplifies his unceasing antagonism towards culture. Just a few years prior, in 1947, Dubuffet settled in the Sahara Desert with the Bedouins on a quest for total renunciation. There, faced with vast loneness and isolation, Dubuffet was forced to ponder modern culture in an anthropological and philosophical investigation, perhaps feeling out of place like this voyageur a la pelisse.

Microscopic dabbing, layering, erasure, and chromatic power are wielded to sublime effect in this painting. The quietly pulsating surface, scarred with a brush handle, brings to mind the horizontal veils of oil paint squeegeed across the canvases of Gerhard Richter’s Abstrakte Bilder, in which the hazy coagulation of nascent abstractions result in a mesmerizing field of glorious light effects. Incorporating self-made oil emulsions, Dubuffet creates a profoundly feathered and ethereal surface, mirroring the spiritual transition he was undergoing at the time. Dubuffet explains, “The image, the artist feels, becomes an object for hallucinatory meditation, like a crystal ball. And the goal of the artist, his ambition, is to conquer souls.”
—Courtesy of Sotheby's

Signature: signed and dated 52; signed, titled, and dated Décembre 52 on the reverse

Avignon, Palais des Papes, Dubuffet Hauts Lieux paysages 1944-1984, June - October 1994, cat. no. 24, p. 76, illustrated in color

Max Loreau, Ed., Catalogue de Travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule VIII: Lieux momentanés, pâtes battues, Paris 1967, cat. no. 199, p. 32, illustrated

Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner

About Jean Dubuffet

In his seminal modernist paintings, Jean Dubuffet delved deep into questions of ground and materiality. Such themes were highly charged during the post–WWII period in which he worked, shortly after the destruction of many European cities as well as the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the war. The surfaces of his canvases are thick and clotted; their aesthetic is muddy and scatological. Dubuffet coined the term “Art Brut” to describe the kind of work that he collected and aspired toward: the untrained, outsider art of alienated groups, including children and the mentally ill. His own paintings are purposefully “deskilled,” often possessing the spontaneity and crude aesthetic of finger paintings.

French, 1901-1985, Le Havre, France, based in Paris, France